Research Project Yields Important Data and Insights to Help Address the Recruitment, Retention, and Development of Educators in Jewish Settings in North America

July 20, 2021

Washington, DC -- A multi-year, comprehensive research project provides new insights that can inform the recruitment, retention, and development of educators working in Jewish settings in North America. Led by CASJE (Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education) at The George Washington University, the Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators Study is the first systematic effort in more than ten years to collect data about the Jewish education workforce. In some areas of Jewish education no large-scale data have ever been collected. The project was generously funded by the William Davidson Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation.


The study is organized around four central research questions: What does it take to launch a career in Jewish education? What factors induce educators to stay in the field and what supports their professional growth? What does the labor market for Jewish education look like? What is the estimated size of the Jewish education workforce? Over the next six weeks CASJE will release a new research report or brief weekly, sharing findings from the study with implications for practice and policy. Research was conducted by two firms with a deep understanding of the contexts in which Jewish educators work: Rosov Consulting, who conducted the research CASJE is releasing this summer; and The Greenberg Team, who are conducting the National Jewish Educator Census, which will be released later this year.


“CASJE’s purpose is to develop usable knowledge that helps both funders of and practitioners in Jewish education,” adds Rabbi Mitch Malkus, EdD, co-chair of CASJE’s Advisory Board and Head of School at Charles E. Smith Day School of Greater Washington, DC. “If we want to attract and retain great talent and train individuals appropriately, we must have reliable information about who Jewish educators are, why they enter and leave the profession, and what they require to succeed. Now, anyone in the field can access the Career Trajectories study findings to help elevate the expertise, talent, and professionalism of the Jewish education workforce.”

Key Findings from the Career Trajectories of Jewish Educators Study:

  • Jewish educators are mission driven, love Jewish learning, and share an abiding commitment to serving others. For many, especially those who participate in university-based pre-service programs, this sense of mission is a source of resilience in overcoming challenges they face in the field.
     
  • Barriers to enticing entrants to careers in Jewish education include the perceived low status of Jewish educators, the perceived parochial nature of Jewish educational settings, and limited or outdated perspectives on the kinds of work Jewish educators do.
     
  • Almost half of current Jewish educators report entering the field in response to a job opportunity rather than proactively choosing to enter the field; fewer than half of new educators have participated in formal pre-service preparation.
     
  • In many sectors of Jewish education there is no clear career ladder for educators; often the only pathway to advancement is in taking on administrative work.
     
  • Continuous and high-quality professional development opportunities that correlate with improved outcomes for educators are not accessible to enough Jewish educators.
     
  • Although Jewish educators tend to report good relationships with supervisors, mentorship and support for ongoing professional development are generally viewed as inadequate.
     
  • Most Jewish educators are dissatisfied with the compensation and benefits they receive. Female respondents are typically paid less than their male peers, and early childhood education lags in salary and benefits.
     
  • The popular narrative of a personnel crisis in Jewish education is fueled by trends in the supplementary-school labor market. Programs such as camping or social justice and innovation report a large pool of talented candidates from which to recruit educators, while day schools and early childhood programs face somewhat tougher supply-side challenges.
     
  • There is a lively and growing market for independent providers of professional learning, in part driven by employers who do not demand formal degree completion or certification. Independent providers generally emphasize the personal growth of the educator and relationship building skills; degree-granting university-based programs emphasize professional knowledge and technical skills.
     
  • The number of educators enrolled in degree-granting programs has increased during the last thirty years, a trend driven by growth in specialty programs and dependent on availability of philanthropic support.
     

The study was grounded in an operational definition of the Jewish educator as a paid professional who works directly with people of any age who identify as Jews, in settings--whether virtual, brick-and-mortar, or outdoors--that aim to help participants find special meaning in Jewish texts, experiences, and associations. Data were therefore gathered from five sectors within which individuals might conceivably be found: 1) formal Jewish education (day schools, early childhood education centers, supplementary schools); 2) informal/experiential settings including both immersive (e.g., camp) and non-immersive (e.g., youth organizations, JCCs); 3) those involved in engagement, social justice, and innovation; 4) communal organizations that may employ someone in an educational role (e.g., scholars in residence at Federations or Jewish educators at Jewish Family Services); and 5) non-organizational networks and online learning platforms (e.g., independent B’nai mitzvah or Hebrew tutors).

“We learned from Career Trajectories that working as a Jewish educator means many different things and that different settings have their own unique ecosystems,” add Wendy Rosov, PhD, and Alex Pomson, PhD, of Rosov Consulting, the lead researchers on the project. “The marketplace of supports--from pre-service programs, to in-service programs, to work environments, and more--is quite different depending on the educators and the settings in which they work. Additionally, employers in these many fields look for vastly different kinds of educators with various skills and knowledge. This new understanding of Jewish education as multiple fields has major implications for how funders and educational leaders allocate resources and design programs to train, support, grow, and retain educators.”

This mixed-methods study utilized surveys, focus groups, document analysis, as well as interviews with Jewish educators, educational leaders, providers of pre-service and in-service professional development, and individuals who left the field or chose not to enter the field. In total, almost 6,000 people responded to the various surveys sent out as part of the study. Respondents to the Preparing for Entry survey, the first report to be released, included current educators, former Jewish educators, and individuals who showed “reasonable potential” of entering the field but chose not to do so.

“Having research-based evidence is integral to improving Jewish education and tackling its complex problems,” says Darin McKeever, President & CEO of the William Davidson Foundation. “As we emerge from the pandemic, the field of Jewish education has an exciting opportunity to imbue new approaches and thinking into how we support educators and position them for success. Career Trajectories can inform planning strategies of communities and learning agencies, philanthropic investments—both nationally and locally—and the design of professional development programs.”

A Technical Advisory Committee, made up of scholars and practitioners, provided support for the study design, data collection and analysis.

CASJE’s Advisory Board includes Henry Braun, PhD, Rena Dorph, PhD, Chip Edelsberg, PhD, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Michael Feuer, PhD, Ellen Goldring, PhD, Benjamin M. Jacobs, PhD, Susan Kardos, EdD, Ari Kelman, PhD, Alisa Rubin Kurshan, PhD, Rabbi Mitch Malkus, EdD, Amanda Winer, Adam Weisberg, and Tali Zelkowicz, PhD

 

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CASJE is a community of researchers, practitioners, and philanthropic leaders working to improve the quality of knowledge that informs Jewish education practice and policy. For more information, visit CASJE.org.

Rosov Consulting is a mission-driven company that works with funders and grantees to inform and improve Jewish education and engagement. For more information, visit rosovconsulting.com.